In conversation with Sophie in ‘t Veld (Volt Belgium): “The far right does not have to win”

In gesprek met Sophie in ‘t Veld (Volt België): “Dat extreemrechts gaat winnen is geen onontkoombare waarheid” - Shaping Europe

An interview with MEP and Volt Belgium party leader Sophie in ‘t Veld about the upcoming elections for the European Parliament and the ambitions of her party.

Sophie in ‘t Veld has been a Member of the European Parliament (EP) since 2004. For a long time, she was a Member of the European Parliament in the Dutch party D66. In 2023, she switched to the relatively new, pan-European party Volt. In ‘t Veld describes Volt as “a very outspoken pro-European, progressive party” that now exists in 32 countries. The party was founded on the day of the official Brexit in response to populism that partly led to Brexit and is also gaining momentum in other Member States. Volt is not only active in European Union (EU) Member States but also in Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Volt characterises itself as a single European party where people within the framework of the party work together across national borders. The ‘young’ character of the party – the party has many young members – appeals to In ‘t Veld.

The current state of the European Union

A lot has happened in the current term of the European Parliament, such as the COVID crisis, two wars (in Ukraine and Gaza), an inflation and energy crisis, and several climate disasters. In ‘t Veld says that many steps have been taken by the EU to tackle these problems. At the same time, she notes that these steps are often still inadequate. According to In ‘t Veld, there is no clear answer to the question of the current state of the EU. She illustrates this with two examples: the war in Ukraine and the COVID crisis.

The EU has provided support to Ukraine in the form of weapon material, financial resources, and EU membership negotiations. Yet, In ‘t Veld believes that this is not enough: “Today soldiers are standing in the mud, and they simply do not have the weaponry they need to defend themselves.” Regarding the COVID crisis, the initial response of the EU Member States was only national. Member States ended up in a “rather unfair competition” over face masks and vaccines. In addition, European borders were closed, and the measures were not harmonised. According to In ‘t Veld, the COVID crisis showed that “national borders are still very close to the surface.”

“We see that the European Union simply has a lot of difficulty in making real, decisive decisions.”

In ‘t Veld states that the EU has difficulty making decisive decisions. As Europe further integrates and the EU acquires responsibilities in more policy areas, national governments, and especially government leaders, are taking on more power for themselves. In ‘t Veld considers it a large handicap that government leaders are trying to strengthen their own national position in the EU. According to her, this way, parliamentary democracy in the EU is being hollowed out, and the European Parliament’s control over power is being reduced. While the EU gains more power, there should also be more control over this power.

“Great steps are being made, but there are also very large and growing shortcomings in the way the European Union is governed.”

When asked how Volt wants to contribute to the strengthening of democratic values in the EU, she indicates that her party strives for a radical reform of the EU itself and how the EU is governed. Volt advocates a supranational, political, and democratic union. The party has a platform to convey this message to citizens, but this is quite a difficult task because of national politicians’ lack of interest in this. She also sees a lot of “unfamiliarity, cold feet, aversion, sometimes a bit of arrogance, and above all, a major lack of knowledge” in the media. It differs per country, but In ‘t Veld sees that this is a large problem, at least in the Netherlands.

We ask In ‘t Veld whether she understands that some people are scared that a supranational union and democratisation do not go hand in hand. She indicates that she understands this but also says that this fear is primarily because this is what EU citizens are made to believe by national politicians, not least by government leaders. Moreover, citizens themselves have a decreasing insight into what is happening:

“Heads of government go to such a [European] summit, which generates nice images for television. There’s a long line of limousines and then those heads of government come out and they speak to the press, and  they pull a bit of a serious, solemn face. Then they retreat and come out again a while later. [They say] ‘Well it was challenging, but I fought hard for it’. But no one can scrutinise what happens in that process, no one.”

As described in the quote above, In ‘t Veld mainly has large problems with the European Council (consisting of the heads of government of the EU Member States). She explains that this used to be an informal meeting but became an official body in 2009 – with the Treaty of Lisbon. Government leaders make decisions behind closed doors in anonymity. This causes, in combination with the problem of poorly informed citizens, people to doubt the EU.

In ‘t Veld finds it too easy for people to call her a ‘Europhile’. She indicates that as a ‘democrat’, she believes that people should be given tools to participate in democracy, to be able to form their opinions. However, people hardly learn how the EU works, even though, according to In ‘t Veld, they are entitled to this. People too quickly forget that Europe is “intensely political and that they could influence it.” In the Netherlands there are constant discussions about the usefulness of the Senate, the introduction of a referendum, the introduction of an electoral threshold, et cetera. However, when it comes to the administrative reform of European institutions, “people become averse, and suddenly all doors are closed.”

“The European Council of Heads of Governments is a very problematic body”

According to In ‘t Veld, government leaders are becoming increasingly powerful, also at the national level, especially because they are also members of the European Council. For example, Mark Rutte is not only (outgoing) Prime Minister of the Netherlands, but also a member of the European Council. This allows him to make important decisions, while the heads of government formally do not have that power (Ed. In the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure, the European Commission has the initiative power, which must then be approved by the Council of the EU (consisting of ministers from the Member States) and the European Parliament). This gives government leaders more decision making influence, which, according to In ‘t Veld, they absolutely do not want to give up. It is for this reason that she calls the Council a “very problematic body”.


We jump to a topic that In ‘t Veld has been advocating for quite some time: the (ab)use of spyware. Spyware is malicious software that is secretly installed on a device to collect personal information, including passwords. Spyware is often used for espionage. Spyware damages the privacy of the device user. In ‘t Veld was actively involved in a European investigation into spy software.

According to In ‘t Veld, spyware is one of the greatest threats to our democracy. She explains that a state can only call itself a democracy if there are checks and balances on power. Spyware is a threat to such checks and balances because it can place or change software on a phone and it can eavesdrop on users, including opposition politicians or critical organisations/people: “It is just really taking over everything that’s on your phone, and that’s almost entirely you, because that is where all your contacts are, all your banking, […] your messages, your documents, everything […]”. If those in power can use spyware against their political opponents and critics, they can eliminate all criticism. According to In ‘t Veld, the principle of power and counter-power is then gone: “And if power no longer has counter-power, then it is absolute power”.

Part of the problem, according to In ‘t Veld, is that when people think of spyware, they think of ‘scary dictatorships far away from here’, while European governments also use it against political opponents. She indicates that, for example, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister of Greece, uses spyware against his political opponents. He used the Greek version of the spyware – that is being used by the CIA – against a critical journalist. In ‘t Veld resents the fact that Mitsotakis, as a member of the European Council, can make decisions about ‘us’, European citizens, while effectively undermining democracy in his own country.

According to her, when countries use spyware, they often hide behind the argument of ‘national security’. In ‘t Veld explains that in such situations it is said that ‘normal’ laws do not apply to issues related to national security. But, she adds, despite this appeal to national security, the term is not defined, which is problematic. She adds:

“[That way] national governments can simply say in any given situation, ‘yes, this is a matter of national security, so we will not make any further announcements about it’. They can, therefore, unilaterally decide that the law does not apply. [That] is simply being heavily abused.”

In ‘t Veld finds it disturbing that the European Commission remains “silent in all languages” about the presence of spyware while there are instruments, including a legal basis, to tackle it. Why does nothing happen? “Because the Commission is very dependent on […] those government leaders, and these actually like having spyware at their disposal.”

In ‘t Veld emphasises that she is not claiming that (all) governments are eavesdropping or spying on their opposition. Yet, she says, the fact is that all 27 national governments have refused to help her research into combating spyware. In her report, she called this ‘omerta’, a kind of silence pact of the mafia. Government leaders protect each other because the power of the European Council is “going a bit to their heads”. In ‘t Veld even calls them ‘power drunk’.

D66 to Volt

Another theme we discussed is the difference between D66 and Volt. As mentioned earlier, In ‘t Veld recently switched from D66 to Volt. We asked In ‘t Veld about the reason behind this. She says that it was not so much a decision to switch but rather a decision to leave D66. Even though D66 had become more than a party for her (it was also a “home, family and basis”), the political and moral course of D66 no longer suited her own views. Volt appealed to In ‘t Veld from the beginning, and because she did not want to be ‘politically homeless’, this party was the most obvious party to join.

We ask if In ‘t Veld can explain the most significant differences between D66 and Volt. First, Volt has “a pan-European structure […] that is set up and functions that way,” she answers. Even though In ‘t Veld knew this when she became a member, she enjoys seeing how this actually works in practice. The difference with other European parties – such as the European Liberals, European Christian Democrats, the European Socialists, and the Greens – lies in the structure and functioning. While those parties are a kind of federation of delegated national politicians from national parties, Volt is truly pan-European.

Secondly, “Volt is outspokenly pro-European and puts Europe first”. This is something that D66 has also had for a long time but has deviated from in recent years. Although D66 is still pro-European, the focus has shifted too much to The Hague politics in recent years – in the opinion of In ‘t Veld. This shift no longer matched her own views. She indicates that no one will deny that a lot is happening at the European level and that the “political and economic world order is shaking on its foundations”. The fact that Europe is no longer a top priority for D66 is not right, according to In ‘t Veld. She says she looked with surprise at the campaign for the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands last November, in which Europe played a role in almost no party except Volt. According to In ‘t Veld, there is a national bubble in which the outside world is no longer perceived.

Dutch in Belgian politics

Not only is she now a member of another party, but In ‘t Veld is also on the list in Belgium instead of the Netherlands as party leader for Volt Belgium. We asked her about the differences between Dutch-European and Belgian-European politics and her experiences with campaigning in Belgium.

In ‘t Veld explains that there is a different political culture in Belgium compared to the Netherlands. Even though she has lived in Brussels for thirty years, it is a big yet fun challenge to enter politics in Belgium. It is difficult for new parties to get involved in Belgium. To participate in the European elections in all constituencies (Ed. an area where the same candidates can vote in elections), the party must collect more than fifteen thousand signatures. By comparison, in the Netherlands – a country with considerably more citizens – the parties must collect a total of thirty signatures per constituency, and in Germany 4,000. Moreover, unlike other countries, there is no form of financing whatsoever. New parties are also excluded from polls and voting guides. In addition, the media, in principle, only pay attention to parties that are currently represented in the federal parliament.

Therefore, campaigning in Belgium is different: Volt is working on a grassroots campaign, for example, by ringing people’s doorbells. This gives the party a good idea of what is going on among citizens. Precisely because the party landscape is stuck, In ‘t Veld sees that people from left to right have a positive attitude towards a new party. This way, Volt fills a gap, but entering as a new party requires a lot.

Why vote?

We asked In ‘t Veld why she thinks young people should vote and what she would like to say to people who are unsure about voting in the first place. The first thing In ‘t Veld mentions is the voting age, which is sixteen in Belgium. As far as In ‘t Veld is concerned, this should be the case in all countries.

“You should always vote.”

Every five years, the question of why people should vote is asked again. According to In ‘t Veld, the answer is clear: “because it is not your only, but your most important instrument to help determine what the political balance will be in the future.” Besides, voting is compulsory in Belgium, so the question of voting or not voting does not arise.

“It does not have to be an inescapable truth that the far right will win.”

In ‘t Veld believes that we are currently looking like a ‘scared rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car’ regarding the rise of the extreme right. She emphasises that there is still time, and it can, therefore, still be prevented that the extreme right wins the elections in June – something she does not consider desirable. That is why it is important to vote. Poland and Turkey show that democratic forces can bounce back after years of authoritarian rule. She also states that voting rights are a very important instrument, for which has been fought hard in the past. In addition, if people are shocked about what happened to Alexei Navalny, according to In ‘t Veld, it is not even a question anymore whether we should vote.

In ‘t Veld finds young people of the current generation to be “incredibly committed” and socially very active. She mentions actions such as climate marches and climate truancy. This theme would not have been this high on the agenda without these actions. At the same time, In ‘t Veld hears young people say that they have lost trust or faith in politics because they are disappointed that their efforts for the climate have not led to a ‘revolution’. The MEP would also have liked to see things go faster, but she believes that, especially when things get difficult, you have to fight. And in a democracy, this is done through politics. Democracy is not a perfect system, In ‘t Veld acknowledges, but it is still many times better than all other options.

“You are part of democracy. You have to participate in steering, participate in discussions, participate in determining, participate in decision-making, and not only in discussion groups or protests but also through politics.”

The EU in 2035

We conclude the conversation by asking how In ‘t Veld sees the EU in 2035. In ‘t Veld laughs: “My experience with the EU is that you cannot even predict 35 days with certainty, let alone ten years or more.”

In ‘t Veld hopes that the current situation with all its crises and challenges will give the EU an enormous boost towards a “full-fledged, democratic, parliamentary, political union”. She adds that the possible re-election of Donald Trump is perhaps the biggest challenge of all and hopes that the EU dares to take its place on the world stage.

The EU has been an economic powerhouse for decades, which has meant that Europe never felt the need to become a political unit. In ‘t Veld explains that the European internal market ensured economic prosperity. As for our security, Europe was protected by the United States. Europe can no longer count on American protection, and Europe is also falling in the rankings in terms of its economy. According to In ‘t Veld, Europe is no longer the (economic) powerhouse that it used to be. She advocates building out the EU to become a true geopolitical union. If this does not happen, she believes the EU will become irrelevant: “The union will not explode in one day but will slowly unravel until only the facades of the institutions are left standing and everyone else will go their own way.” According to In ‘t Veld, this will be unfavourable for our prosperity, safety, freedom, and our way of life. Therefore, she sincerely hopes that the EU will indeed develop into a political giant in the coming years.

Loes ter Horst is pursuing a Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Last summer, she obtained her MSc in Crisis and Security Management from Leiden University, following her earlier completion of a BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences at Utrecht University.

Hanna Krijgsman van Spangenberg holds a master’s degree in Political Science from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a bachelor’s degree in European Studies from the University of Amsterdam with a major in European history.

Image: © European Union 2023 – Source : EP